Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Ripples of Battle

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Review by Jay Winik from the National Review Book Service

“Great battles,” Winston Churchill once remarked, “change the entire course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, in armies and in nations.” Yet while books abound that examine decisive battles in either a strategic or tactical context, rarely are they examined for the cumultative effects — the ripples — that change societies for years, centuries even, well after the day’s killing is over. Now, however, historian and National Review contributor Victor Davis Hanson does just that in Ripples of Battle, an eye-opening look at three great military encounters: Okinawa, Shiloh, and Delium, an obscure battle of the Peloponnesian War.

A master of military detail, Hanson begins by describing the strategies and tactics of each battle and the terrible cost in human life. But these vivid accounts merely set the stage for a wider inquiry into the long-term, often unintended, consequences of war. Among his fascinating insights and arguments:

 

  • Okinawa: Why the Japanese kamikazes — like their 9/11 suicide-bomber counterparts — only succeeded in heightening America’s resolve to win the war at any cost. Why the failure of suicide tactics was also a vital catalyst in ending Japan’s militarist leadership and setting the country on the path toward democracy
  • Shiloh: How the death of Confederate Commander in Chief Albert Sidney Johnston, long considered a turning point in the Civil War, gave birth to the myth of the Lost Cause — the belief that only a tragic accident of fate destroyed the South’s noble dream. How the stubborn devotion to this reactionary view would slow Southern progress for a century
  • Delium: How this little-remembered battle inspired a tragedy by Euripides, profoundly altered the direction of Western philosophy (Socrates was one of the few Athenians to survive) — and virtually created Western infantry tactics

“Battles really are the wildfires of history,” writes Hanson, “out of which the survivors float like embers and then land to burn far beyond the original conflagration. To teach us those important lessons we must go back through the past to see precisely how such calamities affected now lost worlds — and yet still influence us today. In that regard, I have selected across time and space three less well-known battles of spears, black powder, and modern guns to show how our lives even today have been changed in ways we do not readily appreciate — and by a few hours long ago that few recall.”

 

“America’s laureate of military history” at the top of his form
“Hanson has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the most interesting and innovative military historians in the world. In Ripples of Battle, he shows once again why he’s the best. He ranges far and wide, from World War II to the wars of ancient Greece. Along the way he combines a born storyteller’s gift for rip-roaring battle narrative with a scholar’s attention to the deeper meaning of conflict. Once again he manages to take what may seem familiar and to show it in an utterly new light. … This book is not only deeply enlightening but also a sheer pleasure to read. It is, in short, vintage Victor.” — MAX BOOT, author of The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power

“With this usefully idiosyncratic and provocative work, Hanson may succeed the late Stephen Ambrose as America’s laureate of military history. But where Ambrose’s tone is ultimately elegiac, reflecting on the deeds and character of a past ‘greatest generation,’ Hanson’s is sharp edged and confrontational, linking past history and present policy. . . . Hanson’s conclusions show the threads of these battles in the garments of the war on terror.” — Publishers Weekly

“Like any good classicist, Victor Davis Hanson accepts the primacy of military history in human affairs. In Ripples of Battle, a sequel of sorts to his masterful Carnage and Culture, he shows the fascinating repercussions of three lesser-known battles. You cannot fully understand Hiroshima, the bitterness of the Old South, or the Golden Age of Athens without reading this gem of a book.” — ROBERT D. KAPLAN, author of Warrior Politics

“Hanson is one of our leading military historians, and in Ripples of Battle he does not disappoint. A far-reaching story of man, war, and history, it is, by turns, iconoclastic, touching, deeply learned, and endlessly fascinating.” — JAY WINIK, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.